Everyone to look out for suspicious cargo
Criminals like to misuse bona fide logistics networks to smuggle illegal goods across the border. This saves them from having to arrange their own transportation and aids them in concealing their illicit practices. The police has been organising regional action weeks to warn transport companies against possible interference by organised crime since last year, and Customs is helping out. Tjerry Kreukniet (Customs Breda), involved in the Zeeland/West-Brabant campaign: “Entrepreneurs need to know that they can report all shipments they have their doubts about to us.”
Transport Facilitated Organised Crime, or TFOC for short: this is the name used by the Central Unit of the police when organising targeted actions in the transportation sector. These actions are supported by many public and private partners (see the textbox below), including Customs*. All activities taken in the context of TFOC relate to supervision, investigation, and prevention. “We focus on smuggling in the broadest sense of the word,” Kreukniet explains. “This may relate to narcotics, goods on which excise duty is due, such a cigarettes, and arms. But it also covers human smuggling, for example. This is why the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee has become a partner. Over the course of the action period, each participant will conduct inspections in its own field. We, of Customs, for example organised a comprehensive inspection of all incoming and outgoing goods in the Port of Moerdijk this time around. We did not act on signals of specific risks, but looked into what we would discover by conducting spot checks. A sound example of risk identification.”
It is not so strange for the government to expressly consider the world of logistics in its drive to fight subversive crime. Police data show that a sizeable segment of the trade is involved with smuggling, often without knowing it. In many cases, respectable businesses, unaware of any harm, are misused. Nor is it strange that the TFOC initiators tend to focus on Zeeland and West-Brabant (where the latest campaign was launched this November), as these provinces contain multiple logistics hotspots. Kreukneut: “We are located in between the main ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam, are home to the ports of Flushing and Moerdijk, and house multiple important inland terminals and a few smaller airports. These are all hubs on legal international logistics routes and can all be used for smuggling items into the Netherlands. Or for smuggling them abroad. This outgoing flow is of equal interest to us. Because many narcotics – mostly synthetic drugs – are produced in this region, for example. Or because smuggling cigarettes into the United Kingdom is a lucrative business, in view of the high excise duty in that country. Such illegal goods, too, can travel along with the general traffic in goods.”
As was indicated in the above, prevention forms an important component of the TFOC programme. “Precisely because many transport companies fail to realise the risks, we focus on raising awareness among managers and staff of those companies,” Kreukniet says. “The organisation produced a video on things transporters should look for when new customers present themselves for the first action week of last year. The video also showed what they can do if they have doubts about cargo. We had coffee mugs made that displayed QR codes directly linking to the video on YouTube and distributed them, for example to Customs desks where many truckers drop by to arrange matters. This year, we drew up a leaflet together with the police and this, too, was distributed among truckers and other logistics services staff. In addition, we created a game – Operation Zelos – that could be played in the mobile Multi-Media-Lab of the police, specifically for this target group. These are all tools to start up the discussion with people active in the sector. We want to hear what they encounter in their day-to-day work and what we could do for them.”
What exactly are the signs that could point to a (potential) client possibly acting with malicious intent? Kreukniet: “It can be all sorts of things. Such as packaging that deviates from the norm. Or an instruction to load or unload goods at an unusual place. Or the customer concerned insisting on paying in cash. It goes without saying that parties transporting grouped shipments are particularly likely to have to deal with these sorts of situations. They work on a more ad-hoc basis, having fewer repeat customers and no regular senders and recipients.”
But what to do as a company when smelling something fishy? “When there are specific findings – for example, if drugs are actually discovered – it is best to contact the police,” Kreukniet says. “But when a suspicion is based on no more than gut feeling, it is wise to call the Customs’ reporting line. We possess the sniffer dogs and scanning equipment to inspect a load quickly. We also know a lot about goods and about the smuggling methods used by organised crime. Just as importantly, we visit transporters for regular physical inspections, anyway. So nobody is surprised when a few official Customs cars are parked at such a company. Nobody needs to know that the company has contacted us.”
Kreukniet thinks entrepreneurs will be happy with this final consideration. “There have recently been some incidents with companies where narcotics were discovered. This has been extensively covered by the press. As a result, companies may think that, should they report something today, it will be in the papers tomorrow – and that they might get into trouble because of this. When contacting Customs, this risk is very limited. Of course, transporters can also always report signs of possible irregularities anonymously via Crimestoppers NL. The key issue is really that they proceed to contact the authorities in some fashion. In order to put a halt to subversive crime in our country, the government and the business sector need each other.”
* Customs also participates in other broad (regional) initiatives in the field of enforcement and information provision. For example, Kreukniet is also the chair of Symbiose, an informal partnership of all sorts of government bodies active in monitoring Zeeland and Brabant port areas. These parties conduct comprehensive inspections throughout the year. As such, some overlap exists: some activities already on the Symbiose agenda were performed during the TFOC action week in November.
‘Douane inZicht’ has previously published the article ‘Road transporters focus on suspicious shipments’, which covered the same subject.
If you would like to report a suspicious shipment of goods, call the Customs’ reporting line, tel. 088 - 622 3100.
The activities conducted under the TFOC banner are organised by the police and supported by the Public Prosecution Service, the RIEC Brabant-Zeeland Taskforce, the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee, the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority, the Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate, the Inspectorate SZW, the Fiscal Intelligence Unit - the Netherlands, the Tax Administration and Customs. The business sector is represented by the National and International Road Transport Organisation and Dutch Transport Operators Association umbrella organisations. The Zeeland and Middle- and West-Brabant environment services and the Municipalities of Breda, Moerdijk, and Flushing were involved in organising the action week discussed in this article. The latest news on TFOC is presented on social media under the hashtag #stronglogistics.